From coordination, balance and flexibility to self-esteem and socialisation, getting children involved in sports has a host of benefits, extolled by national and global health authorities
But a new Australian study shows that playing sports may also promote better mental health in the (very) long term when practised from an early age.
The World Health Organisation's (WHO) recommendations encourage children of all ages to stay active to reap the many benefits of regular physical activity, including improved cardiorespiratory capacity, muscular fitness, bone health, cognitive performance and blood pressure, to name but a few.
But getting enough exercise also helps fight the effects of "lives (that) are becoming increasingly sedentary, through the use of motorised transport and the increased use of screens for work, education and recreation."This kind of lifestyle is detrimental to children's and teenagers' sleep, and can lead to weight gain and "poorer cardiometabolic health, fitness, behavioral conduct/pro-social behavior," the WHO states.
These are just some of the reasons why national and global health authorities are regularly urging parents to encourage young children to participate in sport. This has prompted researchers at the University of Queensland to take a closer look at the impact of sport on the mental health of the very young.
Data from over 4,200 Australian children were analysed over an eight-year period. At the end of their research, the authors concluded that children who took part in sport regularly from an early age had better mental health in the long term.
In a statement, associate professor, Dr Asad Khan, who led the study, said that "consistent participation in sports from childhood is associated with better mental well-being amongst adolescents."
Team sports can bring further benefits
Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the study goes even further, highlighting the many benefits of team sports in terms of self-confidence, socialisation and overall quality of life. "We found there was a positive impact on mental health regardless of the type of sport, however children who played in a team experienced greater benefit," said Dr Khan.
"This could be due to the social aspects involved such as being surrounded by supportive peers, opportunities to form friendships, and working towards a collaborative goal."
While playing sports, and especially team sports, is beneficial for all children, the researchers point out that team sports can be particularly helpful for those who tend to "internalise their emotions" and/or "have difficulty socialising with their peers."They also observed greater benefits for boys than for girls, due to the latter's lower levels of participation in team sports.
"Some possible reasons to explain girls’ lower level of team sports involvement could include lack of self-belief and confidence in sporting ability, or the common stereotype of team sports being a male-dominant activity.It could also be due to a lack of opportunity for girls to participate in team sports, or a lack of diversity of sports offered in schools and co-curricular programmes," say the study authors.
In light of this, the researchers are calling for the implementation of initiatives and strategies designed to promote sporting activity from an early age, as well as the integration of girls into team sports. – AFPRelaxnews/Christelle Pellissier